Michigan Birder Leaves Legacy for Great Lakes Piping Plovers
By Tina Shaw
Deputy Regional Director Charlie Wooley joined Seney National Wildlife Refuge staff, Friends and partners in marking the addition of lakeshore acreage to Seney National Wildlife Refuge, on April 27. The 19.85 acres of land known as the Helstrom Addition, was commemorated in honor of Michigan native John J. Helstrom and is within designated critical habitat for the endangered Great Lakes piping plover. A proponent of preserving the natural environment, Helstrom often remarked about the beauty of Whitefish Point and its importance to bird populations.
After a 25-year absence, piping plovers returned to the point in 2009 and successfully fledged young. Nesting has increased over the past three years and in 2012, four pairs fledged 11 chicks. Plovers have been observed using the newly acquired acres as recently as this spring. The signing of the deed in late August signaled the end of an effort that began with the Service and partners meeting in Newberry, Mich. more than two years earlier.
“As we stay vigilant in our conservation work, one point stays true – growing the amount of undeveloped land is key to protecting migrating birds and returning sustainable populations of piping plovers to the Great Lakes,” said Wooley.
Last fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized the purchase of the land at Whitefish Point in Chippewa County, Michigan. The acreage, which includes 1,000-feet of Lake Superior shoreline, is adjacent to 33-acres that make up the Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The gravel beaches, sandy beach dunes and stunted jack-pine dominated forests, once slated for development, are now protected as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
“Returning plovers to the Great Lakes and protecting migratory birds means safeguarding our land. I couldn't be more proud to see this land added to the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Wooley.
Whitefish Point is renowned for its concentrations of birds during migration. Each year thousands of raptors, passerines and waterbirds funnel up to the point to cross Lake Superior. They are followed by hundreds of birders. The bird list for Whitefish Point includes 273 species and the point has been designated as a globally important bird area.
“We talk a lot about the importance of undisturbed habitats and restoration and how they help threatened and endangered animals, but one of the reasons that we are here today is because this place was important to one man, John Helstrom,” noted Wooley.
Helstrom enjoyed spending time outdoors and made many trips to the Upper Peninsula, both as a child with his family, and again as an adult. He was especially fond of Whitefish Point and the surrounding area.
The purchase of the land was made possible with funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as a considerable amount of donated funds raised by the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. The effort of the Service and our partners exemplifies our mission of working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.